While taking part in a debate on the existence of God at the Literific Society at Queen’s University Belfast, I had to give a seven minute speech. (This is slightly different from what I actually said since I tried to include some responses to objections that had been raised.)
In claiming that there is a God, I am not claiming that we can logically establish the existence of God with complete certainty. Rather my claim is that on the basis of various features of the world around us, it is more reasonable to believe in God than not. Just as scientists appeal to evidence rather than proof for their theories so I will appeal to various features of the universe and our existence in it as evidence for God.
A number of features of the universe are not at all surprising if there is a God but very surprising if atheism is true.
1. Order in the universe
There is a great deal of order in the universe. Why is the universe like this? Much of the order can be described in terms of laws of science which can be expressed in the language of mathematics, but what needs explaining is why the universe can be described by such laws. Why is it like that in the first place?
From an atheistic perspective, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to expect so much order, it would just be a ‘happy accident’.
But if God exists, the order in the universe wouldn’t be at all surprising. It certainly wasn’t a surprise to the founders of modern science. They expected to find order in the universe precisely because they believed it was the work of a rational Creator. Since the order is what we’d expect if there is a God, but not what we’d expect if there is no God, the order in the universe provides evidence in favour of God.
2. Fine-tuning of the universe
A whole range of physical quantities are just right for life to exist. If they were slightly different life would be impossible. For example, if the ratio of the electromagnetic and gravitational forces differed by about 1 part in 10^40 then stars such as the sun, which are capable of supporting life, could not exist. Many examples of fine-tuning could be provided and so the evidence of fine-tuning is widely accepted by atheists and theists alike.
What’s the best explanation for the evidence?
Clearly chance is hopeless as an explanation. Some suggest that our universe is just one of many universes comprising a multiverse. This “multiverse hypothesis” requires sufficiently many universes with different physical constants so as to almost guarantee that at least one universe would be suitable for life. The idea is that all of these universes have different values for the constants and since there are so many of them (perhaps infinitely many) some happen to be suitable for life just by chance.
However, a multiverse would just push design back to the level of the multiverse itself ; it would raise the question of how the multiverse came about in such a way as to make life inevitable. There are a number of reasons for thinking that such a multiverse would be more probable given design. One reason is that inflation theory, at present a key component of favoured mechanisms for generating multiple universes, seems to require fine-tuning. Furthermore, very specific background laws, such as gravity, and physical principles, such as the Pauli exclusion principle, would need to be in place to support life.
There is no reason to expect a finely tuned universe if atheism is true. By contrast, fine-tuning wouldn’t be at all surprising if God exists since it is a very precise example of the sort of order we’d expect to find in a universe created by God. Fine-tuning therefore provides strong evidence for the existence of God.
3. Beginning of the Universe
According to the best scientific evidence, our universe began in an extremely hot and dense state approximately 13.8 billion years ago. In the standard big bang theory, the universe emerges from a state known as a singularity, which is a boundary of both space and time. In other words, according to this theory, the universe had a beginning.
Many rival theories have been proposed, but some have been refuted and most are highly speculative and have no clear evidence in their favour. Also, research by three leading cosmologists, Borde, Guth and Vilenkin, places considerable constraints on attempts to avoid a beginning. Based on the best evidence available, there is plenty of reason to affirm that the universe had a beginning.
Now if the universe had a beginning, this raises an enormous problem for atheism. It’s highly implausible, to believe that a universe could come into existence, uncaused out of absolutely nothing. For this reason, a beginning to the universe is extremely surprising if atheism is true.
By contrast, it is not at all surprising if God exists and is what many theists have traditionally affirmed. Once again, this means it provides strong evidence for the existence of God.
Whether we believe in God or not, we all know that certain types of behaviour are morally wrong, murder and rape being two obvious examples. The challenge is to make sense of morality from an atheistic perspective. I think there are two issues here.
The first concerns the existence of objective moral values (such as goodness and justice) because it’s far from clear where these fit in to an atheistic universe, especially if everything is just the result of blind, purposeless physical processes.
The second problem relates to moral obligations. The laws of morality are real and binding. But from an atheistic perspective, why do we have such obligations? It’s very difficult to see why morality should always override considerations of self-interest if atheism is true.
If God exists, the picture is very different. Objective moral values make sense because they are grounded in the character of God. Similarly, moral obligations arise because God requires us to live according to his standards.
So moral values and obligations make perfect sense in a universe created by God, but do not fit easily into an atheistic universe. For this reason morality provides further evidence for the existence of God.
It would be very easy to get the impression from a debate like this, that when it comes to God, it is all about weighing up intellectual arguments for and against. As a Christian, I believe that the purpose of our existence is a personal, transforming knowledge of God, who is the source of goodness, beauty, justice and love. And that this transforming knowledge of God is possible through the person of Jesus.
That is why this debate about the existence of God is so important. I’ve presented four features of the universe that provide evidence for God – i) the order in the universe, ii) the fine-tuning of the universe, iii) the beginning of the universe and iv) the existence of moral values and obligations. I submit that overall there are very good reasons to believe that there is a God.